Unless I missed something, Times Square isn’t really a square. I’m not even exactly sure where it begins and ends. It just looked like city blocks to me with lots of restaurants, shops, theatres, street vendors, etc. The most interesting thing to me were all the people walking around, talking in 26 different languages, playing music, pantomiming (or strung out on cocaine, as Escher thought), worshipping, street preaching, ignoring the street-wise plethora of pigeons, or waiting obediently at the crosswalks so as not to get run down by the honking vehicles or speedier bicyclists.
I must say, there was nothing I ate on this trip that I would go gaga over. The BBQ chicken pizza I had at the non-descript pizza and pasta place that first night was tasty, but definitely did not possess that foodgasmic quality. The stewed veggies I ordered on the side (to try to be healthy) needed Viagra – – or, at the very least, a good shaking with some herbs and spices. There were more herbs and spices going on in the restroom than in the kitchen, despite the NO SMOKING signs.
Souvenir shops? Not interested. I know it is shocking, but I have no desire for a miniature replica of the Statue of Liberty, an I [heart] New York key chain, or a shot glass sporting the city skyline. The only T-shirt I found remotely entertaining was one that said something to the effect of “Fuck, Fuck, Fuckity Fuck” on it. I imagined myself wearing it and proclaiming, “I went to New York and all I got was this fuck, fuck, fuckity fuck T-shirt!” [I did end up buying a T-shirt from the Wicked merchandiser the next night, but it is profanity-free and says “For Good” on it.] Escher bought not one souvenir! Not even when I offered to pay for it! That’s my boy!
Other than observing all the different kinds of people milling about, I also loved the pigeons. Jen, my seatmate/roommate, lived in New York for a time. She said that the number of pigeons we were seeing was nothing close to the number that are around in the summertime. She also said, “You haven’t been blessed by New York until you’ve been pooped on by a pigeon.” And that is why people who don’t care to be blessed walk around with umbrellas on sunny days. New York pigeons are not afraid of you. They will fight for your crumbs of dropped street food and brazenly stand there and eat it. You can practically step on them and they won’t budge. There is probably an ordinance in the city to not feed the pigeons, as I’m sure they are considered as much of a nuisance as seagulls are here. Truth is, if I were forced to live in New York, the first thing I would do would be to feed and befriend some pigeons. They seem like they would be good allies.
You know who else is a good ally to have in New York? A good bus driver. Man, ours had serious skill. Watching Steve maneuver that monster machine in those tight quarters with the precise formula of aggression and restraint was like watching a finely-choreographed dance. Not like the New York City Ballet, but more like STOMP! He had a personality to match, which was less to our benefit when our itinerary needed altering or when the bathroom door needed unjamming. You can’t have everything.
Steve got us safely across the border to New Jersey, where our glorious hotel awaited. By that time, I didn’t really care that its entrance reminded me of a funeral home, complete with a casket spray of flowers in the lobby. Escher’s words when he first saw the busy itinerary echoed in my mind: “Is it wrong that the best thing on here looks like checking into the hotel?” No, son, it’s not wrong. After 18 hours overnight on a bus and a non-stop day in New York, the prospect of a shower and a real bed was the very best thing.
The students were given explicit instruction not to leave the hotel for any reason and, after the 10:30 check, not to leave their rooms. They were also not to leave their assigned guy/girl floors. “No amigos con benefits,” Mama Bear warned. Although there were several couples on this trip together, the only infringement I witnessed was due to the broken snack machine on the guys floor. And a couple of guys who came to our room thinking Jen would iron their next day’s performance clothes for them (they instead received an ironing lesson, and looked none-too-thrilled). “Cheer up, guys,” I told them. “Girls think guys who can iron are totally HOT!” I don’t think they bought it, but they will learn for themselves one day that I speak the highest truth.
The last group text from the band director that night came at 10:15 p.m.: “Sleep well, little bears. Mumma Bear loves you.”